/ Motoring

MOT test checklist – can these simple checks help you pass?

Graphic showing cars

MOT failures caused by simple problems could be costing UK drivers £82m a year. Can you spare two minutes to give your car a better chance to pass its next MOT test?

So, it’s MOT time for your car, and you’re petrified it’s going to fail.

The truth is, you’re right to be worried – around 40% of cars fail their MOT test. But all too often the failure is caused by very minor issues.

In fact, the most common reasons for MOT failures in 2011 were all pretty trivial: lighting and signalling (164,837 failures), tyres (96,760) and headlight aim (82,555).

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is now urging car owners to spend a minute or two checking their car before its MOT test, claiming you could save a lot of money if you do.

The SMMT thinks the number of MOT failures that could be cut as a result of these simple checks is 1.5m each year. With the current MOT fee standing at £54.85, that’s potentially more than £82m being spent unnecessarily by UK drivers every year.

10 checks to save you from an MOT test fail

So what’s included in the SMMT’s two-minute pre-MOT test checklist? The 10 checks are:

1. Headlights and indicators working
2. Brake lights working
3. Number plate legible
4. Wheels and tyres legal
5. Seats and seatbelts undamaged
6. Windscreen undamaged
7. Windscreen wipers effective
8. Screenwash topped up
9. Horn working
10. Fuel and engine oil levels sufficient

Another one I’d add is your dashboard instruments. As of March 2013, MOT testers also look for illuminated or non-functioning dashboard warning lights, such as the power steering indicator and brake fluid warning lamp. So check your lights all come on then go off when you turn the ignition. Another new check is that your speedometer is working.

Doing MOT checks yourself

But would you actually do these checks yourself? The design of most modern cars does not make owner maintenance easy, and many drivers shun working on their cars, preferring to leave checks to the professionals.

If that sounds like you, there’s some good news. You probably don’t even need to do these checks yourself. The SMMT has persuaded every car manufacturer in the UK to offer assistance to customers who are unsure about carrying out the checks themselves – so you can probably persuade your local main dealer to do it for you.

Which checks do you complete before your MOT test? You can pick multiple answers

Headlights and indicators working (11%, 399 Votes)

Brake lights working (11%, 384 Votes)

Windscreen wipers effective (10%, 375 Votes)

Wheels and tyres legal (10%, 372 Votes)

Number plate legible (10%, 359 Votes)

Windscreen undamaged (10%, 353 Votes)

Screenwash topped up (9%, 341 Votes)

Horn working (9%, 332 Votes)

Seats and seatbelts undamaged (8%, 300 Votes)

Fuel and engine oil levels sufficient (8%, 291 Votes)

I don't do any checks before my MOT test (3%, 110 Votes)

Total Voters: 528

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I think SMMT should be encouraging people to carry out these checks weekly. Vehicles need to be in a safe condition at all times and not just before the MOT test.

It’s odd that they have pointed out the need to check certain external lights but not others. Perhaps SMMT compiled its list before warning light checks were introduced, but Chris is right. It is very worrying that some people drive around with these things on. Even if the warning light is giving a false indication, how will the driver know if a real fault develops?

I suppose that a competent garage would refuse to do an emissions test with insufficient oil in the engine, but perhaps there are more important things to check than the fuel level.


The SMMT checklist is much more helpful than their list of headings that has been used for the multiple answer poll.

One of the points covered is checking that seat belts lock if given a sharp tug. Though I check the driver’s seatbelt regularly, I admit to not having done this for the passengers’ seatbelts. I did with my first car that had inertia reel seatbelts but not after that.


Please could you fix the survey, which allows for selection of only one answer at present. Thanks.


They should employ a good software tester – I can be available for a fee 😉


Fixed 🙂


I am astonished that [at the time of writing this] nearly a third of owners who responded to the quick poll do no checks at all before their MoT exam. Only a half made sure their lights and indicators were working!


A lot has changed since you posted, John. It illustrates how a small sample size can be unrepresentative.

I expect that some people will have marked all the boxes without spotting that the last one is ‘I don’t do any checks before my MOT test’. I nearly did that myself, and that question should really have been first in the list to help avoid mistakes. Thanks to recent improvements in the website, we should be able to see which answers we selected in multiple answer questions – the answers chosen previously will be in bold italics.

I expect that when the poll is closed we will discover that most of those participating are more careful about checking their cars than the average motorist.


It’s interesting that your survey shows the top thing people do before the MOT is to check their headlights. I took my car for an MOT knowing that one of the headlamps had blown. As I expected, they failed the MOT, then changed the bulb, fitting it for free and giving me a free re-test. It is notoriously difficult to change a headlamp bulb in modern cars, and this way of changing it was much cheaper than getting fitted at Halfords!


Hmmm – break the law, risk being stopped by the police and possibly endanger lives, to save the cost of having a bulb fitted. Is that rea